Tiny Baker. Vegan/Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Coconut Cookies.

IMG_5510We do a lot of vegan, gluten-free cooking around here. We make our own almond milk a few times a week which leaves us with the fantastic byproduct of almond flour (which is an oxymoron and technically not real flour since it’s wet, but whatever). We use the flour for pancakes and various raw bar goodies, but cookies are the most fun and usually taste like regular eggy, oily varieties.

Alice likes to eat batter and help spoon out dough. I think the vegan aspect is perhaps best suited for toddlers. At least mine, who seems eager to disregard anything I say and go ahead and eat raw dough until her “tummy hurt, Mama.”

I rarely measure anything–so usually I have to give recipes a second shot to confirm what I did the first time. But here’s my estimated recipe.

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Heat oven to 375.

Combine 1 cup ground, soaked almonds (water drained out so it clumps a bit). *dry almond meal works too, just add a table spoon of water and mix a little until it looks shaggy.

Add:

1 ripe banana (use a mixer to mash or if blending by hand smash in good processor or put in plastic bag and roll with a rolling pin…or clean wine bottle works too…

Then:

2 table spoons almond butter

2 table spoons honey

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

Mix all together and add:

1 table spoon flax seeds

2 table spoons shredded (unsweetened) coconut

2 table spoons honey

And fold in:

2 table spoons vegan chocolate chips

Spoon out around 1 table spoon-sized cookies on parchment. Cook 13 to 15 minutes (checking on them at around 10–until bottoms are darkening. But coconut burns/cooks differently depending on shredded finely verses flake, etc.)

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Breakfast Pizza

One of my favorite things is brunch.  I’m always trying to arm-wrestle someone into going with me.  The past two-times I’ve gone to a neighborhood place called Ortine.  It’s cute and small and centers mostly around pizza.  Their brunch is understated and really nice, and my favorite thing on the menu is their breakfast pizza.

They do a nice one with ricotta cheese, potatoes and eggs (which I always get over-hard because runny yolks are the worst).  The only downside is it’s 15 dollars!  It’s not a TON for an entre, I suppose, but more than I’d like to spend, so this week I decided to take matters into my own hands and make us our very own breakfast pizza.

It worked out pretty well, though I spotted an online recipe that opted for pie dough instead and made a breakfast gallette, which, trust me, would be better, but far more decadent.  All that butter…AND ricotta?  Yikes.

We used veggy bacon, fingerling potatoes and a very thin layer of ricotta as a base.  I added salt after baking because I could have used a pinch extra in the recipe I made up for the crust.  I also put in maple syrup instead of the pinch of sugar I usually use for pizza crust…because, you know, it’s breakfast.  But all in al a pretty amazing home remedy (and far less than 15 bucks total).

Breakfast Pizza Dough:

1 3/4 cup bread flour

1 cup semolina flour

1/2 cup corn meal

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 packet dried yeast

1 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup

2 cups luke warm water

Mix yeast with water and syrup and whisk with fork and let sit around 10 minutes.  Arrange flours and salt in a separate bowl and make a well in the middle.  Pour yeast/syrup mixture into the well and use your hands to turn the dough (keeping your hands floured so dough won’t stick).  Once dough is spongy and won’t mix any more, cover with dish towel and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes (you can use that time to dice potatoes, coat them in olive oil and red peper flakes if you’re making the breakfast pizza).

I use this dough for…everything.  Except for when I use it for dinner pizza I use brown sugar or honey in place of the syrup.

If you want to go the breakfast pizza route, just turn out the dough on to a parchment lined cookie sheet and pat into shape, cover with ricotta, oil, and arrange potatoes in a “fan” so they cook evenly and get crispy.  Put in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes or so, until potatoes look crunchy.  Pull out five minutes prior to “done” and crack the eggs over the top.  (We used two eggs and I did it ten minutes early because I’m an egg weirdo).  I also cooked veggy bacon on the stove top and crumpled and added to the top of the done pizza (veggy bacon isn’t very good unless it’s very crispy and burns quick, so I didn’t put it on until the end).

On a side note, Kitty Viv has a squirrel arch enemy.  I’ve been feeding (heavily feeding) a squirrel Moses has named Samantha, but I think is male.  He has three make-shift bird feeders to himself and just parks his squirrel butt on our window ledge and eats and eats and eats.  He also taunts Vivi.   In the midst of baking I went to check on her in the bedroom and saw this:  Which is basically a squirrel’s version of the finger, right?

 

Santa…baby.

How weird is it that Christmas is over?  When I was a kid I remember the Christmas anticipation was good for MONTHS.  I noticed things like carols on the mall PA system and Santa’s throne thing set up in the middle of the Jefferson City, Missouri Capital Mall.  I made my mom pop open and bake crescent rolls and dust them with cinnamon and sugar.  We got assorted paper plates of cookies from church bake sales and I always liked about two or three of the twenty random cookies and found the greasy paper plate vaguely disgusting.  My uncle always gave me a $50 gift certificate to Dillard’s.  I thought it was the most posh gift EVER.  We saw movies after we opened gifts—things like Little Women, Titanic and Hook.  We listened to Nat King Cole’s Christmas and put up the tree—except for the year I turned 15 and made everyone listen to Nirvana Unplugged, which I’d still probably do except that now we have Phil Spector’s Christmas, and there’s really nothing better.

We had a very relaxed Christmas.  Blame it on the wedding looming on our horizon—our smoking pocket books and anxiety-tinged dreams (dear subconscious: I would never, ever, ever buy a floral-print gown with a smocked high waist and bell-sleeves.  I just wouldn’t, so please stop telling my sleepy brain it’s only hours before I have to stand in front of 70 people and confess my love publicly while wearing such a thing).

This year we had a friend for a lazy, sodium-rich breakfast casserole (I used fake bacon and Morning Star sausages—yummy, salty delicious).  Then we sat around and watched America’s Funniest Home Videos on Netflix.  I made a mobile from feathers and felt, and we practiced wedding decoration ideas to make sure they’ll work for the big day.

The next day we took a long walk around the city and we ate and ate and ate—breakfast sandwiches from scratch (“Just like McDonalds,” as Moses requested, “but homemade and healthier.”), margarita pizza with a semolina flour crust and peanut butter and chocolate cookies.

We spent Christmas Eve with a few friends who all had children, so we got to get all the fun and excitement of Christmas for kids (and a free, delicious meal courtesy of Miss Kelli and the always-darling Liam).

Rion and Mandy came to visit!

And Kitty got a bowl of treats, Moses got a fancy razor, and I got a ring—another one, but it hasn’t arrived juuuuust yet.

And the most amazing little Christmas family let us spend xmas eve with their little Sweet Pea.  You can’t tell here, but she has sparkly tights on.

Maple Almond Fig Scones. (Butter returns to my life in a big, chunky way)

Moses “The Champ” Ramirez (as he’s programmed himself into my phone) is in Joshua Tree for his bachelor party this weekend.  I had no idea, but apparently it’s customary for one to ask if “shrooms” will be involved in such an endeavor.  Not “mushrooms” or even “magic mushrooms,” but “shrooms.”  Call me a fat kid, but I hear “shroom” and all that comes to mind is the deep-fried cheese patty used to placate vegetarians at Shake Shack (placate me with breaded cheese any day).  It also seems astounding that people over the age of 25 should remain on such casual terms with a hallucinogenic fungus—but I read far less Hunter S. Thompson than most of the men in my life, so there you go.

Kitty Vivienne Ma Belle Bruges decided to wake me up and ask for maple almond and fig scones.  She did.  She rubbed up against my face and said “enough of this vegan butter crap, Jamie.  I want some of the real deal.”  I obliged, because I love her.

We had some coffee, a little juice and had a fig chopping party while listening to Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift to You,” (which is far less creepy than it sounds).  Once we loosely blended, patted out, cut, sprinkled and lightly brushed with egg yolk Kitty reminded me that she didn’t even like scones.  Instead she wanted wild caught Ahi, which she ate so fast the bowl ratted in it’s stand, and left me with 12 buttery scones.  I gave 4 to the neighbors.  Christine and Andy Pants had one, too.  That leaves 7, huh?  I guess I ate around 7, but to be fair, after 4 or so they all just seem like a big, delicious cookie or something.

Afterward our breakfast Christine, Pants and I walked to Boerum Hill and Brooklyn Heights where we tried on Steven Alan sweaters, discussed the old, chunky Rachel Comey heel, met some huskies (they can smell the Mojo snow dog on me, even when he’s all the way in Missouri) and admired some holiday confections in a window display.

I’m sure Moses had a great time in Joshua Tree, but Brooklyn was pretty cozy…

Scone Recipe:

Maple Almond and Fig Scones (yields 12)

2 cups all-purpose flour (I mix whole wheat and non-bleached)

1/4 cup raw turbinado sugar (brown works too)

¼ cup natural maple syrup

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter coarsely chopped

1 cup dried figs (chopped into small pieces with scissors, careful to remove the hard stems)

1/2 cup of almonds (chopped into course pieces about the size of a pea)

1 egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup heavy cream, cold

For Topping:

1 egg and a bit of sugar for topping

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.  Chop almonds and figs and gently mix to distribute among dry ingredients.

 

With a stand mixer or using your guns, combine maple syrup, 1 egg and cream until egg is incorporated evenly.

 

Add chopped, cold pieces of butter to your DRY ingredients and quickly give them a toss to distribute (careful not to touch the butter TOO much, you want it to stay cold and intact).

 

Pour wet ingredients OVER the butter, fig/almond and flour mixture and loosely mix together with your hands.

 

Once you’ve created a buttery meal (you should still be able to see chunks of butter), turn out your chunky “paste” onto parchment paper or a clean counter top.  Create a little “wall” of dough, about the length and width of your forearm and about an inch and a half or two high.  Take a sharp, dry knife and cut the “wall” into diagonals (like slices of pie that fit together as a puzzle).

 

Separate the triangles out onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Bake at 350 until they’re lightly browned, then remove for a second to brush each scone with 1 egg beaten and a light fist full of turbinado sugar, then replace them in the oven for another 5 minutes until egg crisps a little, sugar melts and you can’t take it anymore.

Let them cool for about 10 minutes.

Note:  I hated scone-making for a long time because, despite this clearly being a kind of British country, tea-party (ie: fun) food, I worked with baker that was super weird about how much they were handled and how precisely they were cut.  Fun fact, I like mine a lot better than I liked hers and I’m pretty sure my blood pressure is WAY lower.  I’d much rather eat them when they look browned and rustic—uniform scones make me think of Starbucks and freak me out.

It’s never fun to make anything if you do it in fear.  Your butter should be cold, not your sweat, and nobody wants a scone Reich.  If your hands melt the butter, so what?  It will still taste awesome, and then you’ll make them a little better the next time.

The not-so “Sometimes Vegan.”

Like most intelligent Americans, Moses and I get an awful lot of our important, informative information via Netflix “Watch Now.”  (The other half comes from the Colbert Report, South Park and occasionally Jon Stewart…you know you’re lopsided when Jon Stewart seems too “straight-laced” to watch frequently…)  Regardless, after Moses subjected me to a documentary advocating a lack of meat and dairy in a diet = healthier, less-cancer-prone and heart-disease-ridden people (he stopped watching half-way through, about the time they said bacon cheese burgers might be a bad idea) I had to admit, even taking all the un-said things into consideration, as long as it doesn’t KILL you, it’s hard to see the down-side of it (because meat and dairy in abundance certain DO seem to kill you…I can say that.  I believe that).


So anyway, while not vegan, because I want to always love food and be able to experience new parts of it (aside from the things I’d like to snuggle with more than eat, which was a hard choice to make), I am having a lot of fun baking vegan lately.  It’s something I never thought I’d do because, well, frankly, butter is one of the most marvelous things on earth in terms of baking.  Where there was once a solid-ish blob there is now slightly salty pockets of air–a la puff pastry.  Crunchy, crispy, browned and lightly bubbling pockets of butter–yum.

But, I like vegan baking in a way I’ve never liked regular baking.  In “typical” baking you have butter.  In vegan baking you have a vacuum.  So what do I put in it?  In this case, BANANA!  AND man it was good.

The key, (I think) is complimentary flavors.  Since I knew banana was my bonding agent sans egg, best to use flavors I LIKED with banana.  I chose chocolate (duh) and peanut butter (double duh, since I’d probably like peanut butter on a rubber shoe sole).

I also opt for coconut milk instead of soy or something thinner because I like the thick, luxuriousness of something cream-like.  The baseness, which so frustrates me in cooking without a curry spice, is great for baking.

I also did a few Thanksgiving experiments.  When I was baking professionally this cranberry caramel pumpkin upside down cake was a hit.  Using vegan Earth Balance it’s equally good, though the “caramel” is slightly less thick, but seriously, a room full of meat eaters went nuts for this upside down cake.

Recipe for Banana Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Mini Loaves:

2 Bananas (ripe)

2 table spoons Earth Balance vegan butter

2 1/2 table spoons peanut butter (Peanut Butter & Co. Smooth Operator works best!)

1 cup vegan, raw chocolate chips

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup brown sugar (or 1/2 cup maple syrup and combine with bananas–since they’re SO sweet already)

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup coconut milk

1 to 1 1/2 cup flour (until the batter is “shaggy”)

Combine vegan “butter”, sugar/bananas/maple syrup, banana and coconut milk in a stand mixer or mix by hand until banana is pureed and smooth and looks like typical “batter”.

Add salt, baking powder (with a sifter, if you want to avoid lumps) followed by your flour.  Make sure the batter is very moist looking, yet solid.

Add in chocolate chips, careful not to use stand mixer once they’ve been included (the force will break them apart into chunks.  They’re way more fun in chip forms so they make chocolatey pools).

In a mini loaf pan, muffin pan or cake pan (if using 9″ cake pan make sure to grease sides with vegan butter or oil and use parchment paper cut to size) scoop batter into equal parts.  Cut remaining half banana and put in 3s as garnish to top along with a peanut or 2.

Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes, checking at 30 minutes to see if tooth pick comes out clean.  Let sit 10 minutes before inverting on plate and turning right-side-up.  Because there’s no “real” bonding agent, the sides will pull away and the middle may fall away from the banana a bit…that makes it taste better.

*The pumpkin, caramel, pecan upside down cake was SO easy too–just use vegan butter instead of real butter, for slightly oily, but super delicious caramel:

8 oz. vegan butter

1 cup pecans

2 bananas

1 cup pumpkin puree

6 tablespoons veggie oil

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 cup sugar (brown or white)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine “butter” and sugar over low heat and stir constantly until caramel forms.  Pour into pie pan and arrange pecans and cranberries, then mix remaining ingredients into batter and smooth carefully over caramel pecan mixture, bake at 350 for 40 minutes or so until the “top” of the pumpkin mixture is solid and caramel bubbles up around solids.

Kitty plays ball in fall.

It’s fall.  Tea time.  Moses bought us this yellow submarine tea diffuser last year.  We love it so.

 I always said it was crazy to live in L.A. where there’s no real difference between seasons.  It sometimes felt like no time had passed at all, though the light does change there with the winter and it gets a bit cooler.  Here in New York it seemed to happen in a day.  In actuality it was more like two weeks.  It was hot, then a day of cool, then a ton of tepid rain.  Now it’s gone to chilly.  In a few more weeks and I’m sure it will be entirely cold and I’ll have trouble believing it was ever hot.

It’s nice to have seasons.  Some aspects of fall and winter are so ingrained it’s a relief to have them back, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t extra homesick for L.A. now that I can feel the winter coming in my bones (my right wrist bone, to be specific).

With the temperature dropping I’ve been doing more fall-type meals.  Though I’ve been going light on dairy lately I’m far from going without.   Sometimes when we eat out it’s just too difficult, and since I’m not the “go hungry” sort, I try to remember it’s “not a religion,”  as my pal Lisa says her wise father used to say.  But still, it’s nice to have some guidelines with which you measure.  Being aware never hurt anyone.

In the past few weeks we’ve had lots of company.   Moses’ cousin, Marco, who he calls his “little cousin” but is actually a bigger guy than Moses, came to visit and I did my best to make Mexican up to their standards.

I also made parchment paper salmon and steamed veggies for Moses, which he loved.  I’ve been really into purple baby potatoes.  So much color.

And last but not least: I always say I only want one baby.  That being said, Kitty Viv is clearly a bit…coddled.  She starting to act out.  Our lovely pals Nate and Lisa came over for some pizza (yum.  Vegan and cheesy varieties) and by the end of the night (wine in hand) we all ended up on the floor to play ball with Vivi…except Vivi.  She reminded seated while the four of US tried to get her to play…too much love, I think.  (Click here to see Lisa’s cutie pictures of baby V.)

Dit t’aime moi pour quoi

There’s nothing I love more than baking.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  There’s a few things I love AS MUCH as baking, but it’s a different sort of love.  I love books–namely hard core fiction, and I also love Neil Simon, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkle, Cher, Fleetwood Mac, Kitty Viv, Moses, roses and I’m sure a few other things I’m not thinking of presently…but if I got on that route this would be a very long post.

 This week I got into baking again, however, despite a few west coast bad eggs.  The older I get the quicker I get at accessing situations.  I suppose this is fortunate and means I’m learning.  Either way, despite my love of baking and how clear-headed and calm I become while doing so, I prefer it as a solo act.  Important thing to know.

My friend Christine and I are talking about a little shop.  I want to do some baked goods and odds and ends, maybe even eventually a little line of housing-ware and a primitive little clothing line  (I say this having made two baby one-sies and as a person who lives with trim pinned to her curtains indefinitely), and Christine (who CAN sew and draw, fortunately) wants to do stationary, cards and some jewelery.  So I was brushing up on my puff pastry skills to make sure they weren’t depressed.  Lucky me, so far so good.

And the secret?  Proofing the dough.  Amazingly, I find “bakers” are generally too insecure to share the odds and ends, so while you can get a recipe or buy a book, you usually don’t get all the little baking secrets.  All typical proportions aside, the biggest “thing” is making sure the dough sits 8 hours and is rolled out at least 4 separate times (the key is making all that butter really GET in there) and then has at least 2 hours to rise and proof.  By “proofing” I mean, roll dough, cut it, roll it and then shape it, put on a baking sheet and cover with a clean, unscented garbage bag (I know, ew) for two hours with 2 glasses (small) to elevate the bag and keep it from sticking to the dough.  Then cook on high for 375 and sprits the hot oven with a water bottle first) and then up to 400, then another 10 minutes at 400.  The devil is in the details…trust me.  Oh, and the other thing is, it’s supposed to be full of love and good feelings, so if something’s a wonky shape, oh well.  I like things to be unique.

After baking (and Moses eating a LOT of croissants and braided breadsticks) we did some save the dates.  Designed by Moses, I think they’re perfect.  We’re working on invites with our amazing pal Anthony.  And now it’s back to addressing our last few while I drink wine and watch Game of Thrones.  That’s right, Mom.  It’s MY wedding and I’m doing it my WAY.